The Enugu State Government, on Monday, began the sealing of illegal coal mining sites and sites without environmental impact certifications and mitigation to checkmate activities of miners in the state.
Governor Peter Mbah of Enugu State had, in June, announced a ban on illegal mining in the state.
The governor, last week, set up a committee, headed by the Commissioner for Environment and Climate Change, Sam Ugwu, to check illegal mining in the state.
Sealing of illegal mining sites
Mr Ugwu, a professor, led other members of the committee to inspect some mining sites across the state.
At a mining site in Awhum, a community in Udi Local Government Area, owned by Milhouse Energy Services Ltd, Mr Ugwu observed that the firm had been violating various mining rules in the area.
Speaking to reporters during the visit, he listed some of the violations including environmental degradation, blasting without approval and due regulations, non-remittance of staff tax to the state government and non-remittance of pension contributions to the pension scheme among others.
He accused the mining firm of withholding taxes deducted from their staff members instead of remitting the same to the state government.
“Our mission is basically to seal, on behalf of the state government, mining activities that do not have any recourse to the state government. We are also here to look at what is going on and you have all seen a lot of environmental degradation going on.
“We equally want to see the veracity of the licence, which they claim they have and to find out how they have been remitting their environmental fees to the Enugu State Government,” Mr Ugwu said.
“Importantly, we want to find out the mitigating plans they have in place. We are very much interested in what happens to these host communities and their environs many years after these miners have closed shop because if you take a look at the Niger Delta, the people are still suffering greatly from environmental degradation caused by oil exploration activities of many decades ago,” he added.
Responding, the General Manager in charge of operations at the mining site in Awhum Community, Akintola Oluwafemi, claimed that the firm obtained all necessary licences from the federal government and was also mindful of the environment in its operations.
Mr Oluwafemi, however, assured that the company would comply with government directives.
Mr Ugwu recalled that Enugu State, through its coal deposits, powered industries in Europe and beyond, but regretted that the state was still bearing the scars and brunt of those mining activities carried out in the state at the time.
“So, we will not fold our hands and watch that happen all over again,” he stated.
The chairperson added that the government was aware of some mining sites in different parts of the state operating illegally and violating environmental protection laws.
The committee also served a notice on another mining company, African Pits and Quarries Ltd, to stop operations immediately and report to the Government House on Thursday.
“Sequel to the directive of the Governor of Enugu State banning illegal mining activities in the state, you are hereby warned to desist and stop all mining activities in this environment.
“Your failure to comply strictly as directed above may lead to your arrest and prosecution in the State Environmental Protection Court,” Mr Ugwu, the committee chairperson, told management of the firm.
The chairperson asked the firm to submit to the committee various approval licences from state and federal governments as well as regulatory bodies, and evidence of various payments to the government, among others.
Apart from Mr Ugwu, the chairperson, other members of the committee who participated in the sealing of the mining sites were the Special Adviser to the governor on Energy and Mineral Resources, Kingsley Nnaji; the Special Adviser on Political Matters, Frank Anioma; and Senior Special Assistant on External Relations, Uche Anichukwu.
Coal mining in Enugu
Enugu State in Nigeria’s South-east is known for its rich coal deposits.
After the coal was discovered in Enugu in 1909, the Nigerian government created an agency, the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC), which was tasked with the responsibility of exploiting the coal resources.
However, with the discovery of crude oil in the country in the 1950s, the attention shifted to oil, and coal mining was abandoned. The situation was compounded by the outbreak of the civil war in 1967.
The NCC would later end mining operations in the state, some years later.
With the failure of the both federal and state governments to further explore the resources, private firms and individuals stepped in and resumed mining operations in the state and in other parts of the country.
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